“The map is not territory”! Custom, law, and plural nationality in French Guiana

By Catherine Benoît


Birth certificates are the cornerstone of administrative identification, an essential step for the attribution or acquisition of a nationality. However, many residents of French Guiana have never been registered. In 2013, the Ministry of Justice launched a campaign to issue birth certificates to individuals living in several villages on the Maroni River, the border with Suriname. This campaign triggered a series of political conflicts between the elected representatives and the customary village chiefs who did not support it. This article offers a close examination of the political stakes, which go back to the eighteenth century ethnic Maroon wars in Suriname and the subsequent displacement of one Maroon group to French Guiana. This article also demonstrates that the experience of nationality can be plural and is not limited to the legal definition.


  • civil registration
  • nationality
  • border
  • Maroons
  • French Guiana
Go to the article on Cairn-int.info